$15 minimum wage supporters at Columbus City Hall.

$15 minimum wage supporters at Columbus City Hall. Photo by Marla Dyan.

On April 4, the same day that California and New York State raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, supporters from grassroots organizations spoke in Columbus City Hall to remind City Council members of  their campaign promises and push for a clear commitment to raising the minimum wage to $15 in Columbus.

“We’re a city where children go to bed hungry because their parents have to decide whether to buy food or pay rent,” said Jordan Patton, a Capital University law student and member of Socialist Alternative. “We’re a city where the corrupt grow richer, while people working multiple jobs struggle to pay their rent on time.”

 “The wheels of commerce turn, quickly and often,” Patton said.  “But without the working people of this city, those wheels would grind to a halt. The people of this city keep her breathing. They deserve better. Not because of charity, but because this is payment for a job well done.” So far 14 U.S. cities have passed a $15 minimum wage.

 “While Columbus is a leader for economic growth in Ohio, we still have too many low-wage jobs that hurt workers, neighborhoods, and our overall economy,” said Adam Parsons of Yes We Can Columbus.

Council members have claimed that prohibitions at the state level prevent cities in Ohio from setting their own minimum wage. Parsons proposed a halfway measure that would have no bearing on the Ohio Constitution. “We’re asking you to take concrete action to make Columbus a city of possibility for all of our residents,” he said. “This action is within Council’s power, and one that would create substantial economic pressure to raise the city-wide wage. We want a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and contractors.”

Council members made no commitments and did not comment on the speakers’ proposals.  Council president Zach Klein noted that raising the minimum wage “at the Statehouse or even the federal level would raise the tide for everyone.” Council members Elizabeth Brown and Shannon Hardin spoke with members of the coalition during a recess.

City Council’s claim that there is a state-level prohibition against raising the minimum wage on the local level is smoke and mirrors, according to Joe Motil, who ran as an independent write-in candidate for City Council in November. “They do have the authority to place an amendment on the city charter for the people of Columbus to vote on,” he said. “They can place it on the ballot if they want to. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.”

The minimum wage section of the Ohio Constitution does not prohibit Ohio cities from increasing their own minimum wage: “Laws may be passed to implement its provisions and create additional remedies, increase the minimum wage rate and extend the coverage of the section, but in no manner restricting any provision of the section or the power of municipalities.”

“Don't drink the City Council kool-aid on this issue,” said Bob Hart of the Ohio Green Party.

Jordan Patton of Socialist Alternative speaks to Columbus City Council on April 4. (Photo by Will Petrik)